Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences was a game show that was on television when I was a kid. A contestant was asked a ridiculous question that they usually couldn’t answer. When they got it wrong, they would have to “pay the consequences” by performing some embarrassing stunt. The show was so popular that the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico renamed themselves Truth or Consequences in 1950. The title logo had a halo over “Truth,” and a pitchfork running through “Consequences.”

I liked the sense of justice implied by the name of the game—know the truth or there will be consequences, and they won’t be good. A familiar Bible verse says it perfectly: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).

When we know the truth, it helps us to make wise choices about our lives, and it enables us to live the truth and avoid negative consequences. Alternatively, when we don’t know and live by truth, our choices and behavior will eventually lead to undesirable consequences.

Every important decision in your life requires you to know truth in order to choose wisely. What is truth you ask? The dictionary definition of truth is, “a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.”  In contrast, an opinion is, “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. A personal view, attitude, or appraisal.”

The distinction is important because it is tempting to live by opinions, especially by those of “experts” since it saves us a lot of time and effort.  Do so at your own peril.  Often the experts have agendas that are not necessarily in your best interests.  If something sounds good to us, and we trust the source, it becomes our truth. It may not be the truth, but we choose to use it in our decision making. It is foolish to live our lives through the opinions of others.

Unfortunately, too many in the world want to own and control you, not with physical cages or chains, but through clever influence. They make it seem as though they have your best interests in mind so that you willingly do what they want, and even thank them for it. But you end up becoming “chained” to whatever they are selling.

Advertisers chain you to products and companies.  Politicians chain you to their parties and causes. Employers chain you to jobs.  Banks and lenders chain you to debt. They tell you what you want to hear, to get you to do what they want you to do. You believe their advice will lead to a better life. You believe in what they claim, so you buy what they’re selling.  You vote for them and support their causes, you stay at the job you dislike, and you borrow their money. But somehow you still aren’t happy—how could that be? Apparently, you aren’t living the truth and you are paying the consequences.

They play on your emotions and help you justify your emotional decisions with one-sided facts. You will often sense that something is wrong. You will instinctively know the right course, and yet, you will still yearn to follow their advice. This is a constant battle that you will lose unless you are willing and able to seek, find, and live the truth.

What truth do you need to know? Everything that has an impact on your ability to live your life to the fullest for the benefit of others.  The only way to be truly happy in this life is to continually strive to be the person you were meant to be.  To use your talents to make the world a better place, thereby fulfilling your purpose.  And by behaving in a virtuous manner.

Now for the hard part. How do we get to the truth? How do we best learn the truth in a complex world of strong opinions posing as truth? On the one hand, it is a challenge given the amount of information available to us—it can seem overwhelming. On the other, we are fortunate to have such easy and open access to information about any topic of interest right at our fingertips.  But you need to be willing to dig for facts.  Many falsehoods are easy to find, truth is increasing difficult to discover.  The search is a great way to develop your virtue of diligence.

One other thing to note, you need to begin and carry out your search with an open mind.  Once you start digging for truth you will likely find that many of your long-held beliefs will not be “truths” after all.  Your pride will kick into high gear and make it difficult to humbly accept that your brilliant self could have actually been wrong.  I recall an episode of the old show Happy Days where Mr. Cool, The Fonz was unable to say the word, “wrong.”  It’s a difficult thing to admit, but we all are at times.

Personally I was challenged early in my career about many of the firmly held beliefs of my youth.  I had a boss who would ask me questions I had never before considered.  I appreciated that he never told me what to believe.  He just encouraged me to do my own research and think a little deeper, to go beyond a surface level understanding of issues.  In the end, I’m guessing I changed my positions on at least half of my youthful beliefs.  Getting a dose of reality beyond the theoretical world of education certainly helped as well.

President James A. Garfield once famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Finding the truth may surprise, embarrass, or annoy you, so be prepared. Even more difficult, it may put you at odds with some of your friends.  You can try to enlighten them.  If they are truly your friends they will listen and be open to debate.

“The greatest kindness one can render to any man consists in leading him from error to truth.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Here is the standard process I use to seek and find the truth about whatever interests me.  I call it DIG DEEP, using the first letter of each step.

  1. Develop Questions to explore (why, who, what, when, where and how).
  2. Interrogate Many Sources (articles, books, speeches, research papers, interviews, etc.).
  3. Gain an Understanding of relevant facts and opinions.
  4. Discern Possible Truths, options to consider.
  5. Examine the Evidence for and against each potential truth.
  6. Engage in Debate with yourself and others using both logic and emotion.
  7. Pick a Winner, discover the truth, or at least your highly-informed opinion.

I could go into detail on each step, but I think it is more useful for you to do that on your own with practice.  Instead, here are a few more thoughts to help along the way:

  • Be curious. Like a two-year-old, question everything.
  • Be open to learning new things and other points of view. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden
  • Be skeptical. Don’t accept answers on faith, dig deep for the truth.
  • Value facts more than opinions, and know the difference.
  • Question motives. Why do people want you to believe this versus that? What is in it for them?
  • Know when to end a debate. Stop when the name-calling begins, or when they want you to agree to disagree. There is no compromise on truth.
  • Don’t take any side but that of truth.  Sides divide and keep us arguing to the benefit of those in power.
  • Don’t argue. Arguing just makes people defensive. Ask questions instead.
  • Consider history in your analysis, it does tend to repeat itself.
  • Take the long view and think things through to the end. Is it truth just for now, or forever? Real truth is lasting.
  • There is no “your truth,” and “my truth.” There is only the truth.

Finally, once you know the truth about something, please do the following:

  1. Tell the truth, promote it, and help others to understand it.  Be bold with the truth.
  2. Live it. Live your life through the truth. Be an example to others.
  3. Be wise. Use your knowledge, experience, and good judgment to make wise decisions and to help others do the same.

Your challenge for the week, should you choose to accept it, is to pick a topic or issue that you know you are right about, but you have a friend that sees it another way.  Use the DIGDEEP method to find the truth.

Start by developing an argument for the opposite of what you believe.  Ask yourself many questions.  Look at many alternative sources of information.  Be able to argue all sides.  Do whatever it takes to get to the truth, or as close to it as possible.  Be diligent and patient.  It will take time.  And if you don’t find that you are having arguments with yourself, you aren’t trying hard enough.  You will find truth in the struggle.

I’m choosing the topic of justice, one of the cardinal virtues.  I’ll share my thoughts with you next week.

One last time, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!”  Scott

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